Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Last week nearly went according to the script with the notable exceptions being Canberra and Parramatta. The Raiders overcame an 18-point deficit to run out winners against Penrith at home in an absolutely startling display of footy. Then the Eels finally found their feet (metaphorically speaking) and put 50 points on premiership material in the Cowboys. And with that went my perfect round, thanks guys.
Apart from that things seemed somewhat rational, with the City boys just getting the better of Country in what I thought was a fine demonstration in the bush. Five from seven picks aint that bad I guess, but a total of 36 from 63 could see me spending a bit more time on my own in the corner at the pub again. And looking at this week?s card, there aren?t too many obvious choices either?
This is the last chance for players from both NSW and QLD to put forward their case for Origin selection. With positions very much up for grabs, players will be digging deep and finding that extra yard in their step in the hope of donning their State colours.
Beware though, there could be some mutton dressed up as lamb, or ferrets masquerading in tuxedo's.
Dragons v Panthers
Well, I think St George has turned the corner. With seven players in the 30-man Origin squad they should be pretty happy with themselves. They?re playing with confidence and are becoming a lot more familiar with each other, now that they seem to be able to get on the paddock. Perhaps the only negative right now is Matt Head?s absence through injury, but Ben Hornby is proving a very capable playmaker inside Trent Barrett. Incidentally, Barrett?s recaptured great form and is the talk of the club right now.
Penrith, well what can you say. An absolutely unforgivable capitulation to an under strength Canberra outfit who were shocked to get the two points. The Panthers have been travelling very poorly all year and certainly not the big shakers we expected when scribing the pre-season predictions. They were without Preston Campbell who copped a nasty hit in the rep game the night before, and lacked that killer instinct.
I?m going with the Dragons here due to their form and the WIN Stadium factor. Penrith will want to put in a really good show though with the comp moving past them in many ways. A potential upset if the Panthers turn up and it will be a good gauge on the Dragons, who in previous years have found it hard to put a streak of wins together,
Bulldogs v Sea Eagles
This game should be very competitive. So far the Sea Eagles are providing untold interest in the comp thanks to their great start to the year. With the exception of the smash-up at the hands of Brisbane they have been playing great footy and last week they beat the Tigers without their front row.
The Bulldogs gave their all last week against the Broncos at home, and got a lot closer than Manly did a week earlier. But they?ve suffered countless injuries and there has been a bit of disruption off the field as well. Their backline and forward pack are a lot weaker but seems to have given rise to a siege mentality of sorts for Canterbury to work from. They will really dig in here.
But I?m going to give this one to Manly. Although the game isn?t at Fortress Brookvale, the team is riding high and a few players will want to impress the NSW selectors. Anasta for Canterbury might be a bit distracted right now as well, even though he?s been in fine touch.
Cowboys v Broncos
Let?s hope this lives up to expectations. In a replay of the preliminary final from last year, which was switched from the SFS to Dairy Farmers at the behest of Wayne Bennett, Brisbane and North Queensland have become rugby league?s latest and greatest local derby even if they are miles apart geographically. It couldn?t get much better, could it?
The circumstances only heighten the anticipation of the contest. Last week the Cowboys were blown off the park by Parramatta. They will be out to make amends in front of a sell-out home ground crowd where they haven?t lost since last July. Then there?s the Broncos, who are leading the comp and are experiencing somewhat of a renaissance in popularity and form with Darren Lockyer putting in man-of-the-match efforts each week.
Who to pick? I think the Cowboys. It?s a hard task to win up there, as Brisbane found out last September. But I just think North Queensland look the better side on paper and after last week I bet every player spent time in ?Ben Walker corner? and never want to go back. It won?t be by much though and a stage of gargantuan proportions has been set.
Rabbitohs v Storm
Melbourne had the bye last round and only two from eight clubs have won the following week. But it?s not going to stop me tipping them against the Bunnies.
Souths are in real strife. They?ve changed up their team and are missing regular captain Bryan Fletcher through injury. New halfback Mick Moran (brother of Denis) was handed a baptism of fire last week against the Dragons and probably has very few answers for a team struggling right now. I get the feeling that Shaun McRae panicked a little by dropping Joe Williams and he?ll want him back in first grade pretty soon I?d imagine.
As I said last week though, the Storm would have spent some time searching their inner selves in an effort to ascertain if their premiership credentials. Matt King and Scott Hill will be out to prove that they deserve a sky blue jersey despite being rank outsiders in their respective positions. They will miss Slater?s presence, and it could be closer than some think, but the Storm will take the two points.
Warriors v Roosters
There?s more to this than meets the eye. Firstly, no one?s sure if new five-eighth Jamie Soward will play, with the terrible news of his father?s passing potentially ruling him out of the game this week. You could see Brett Firman re-introduced here, although the more likely scenario will be Craig Wing into the halves with Stuart Webb to hooker.
Next, I?m not really sure that the Roosters played that well last week against Newcastle. They only lead 4-2 at the break and took hold of the game thanks largely to the Knight?s injury woes and lack of fitness.
Then we have the Warriors who can think themselves unlucky against in-form team Cronulla. They were in it right up to the last minute and probably should have won if it were not for some Adam Dykes magic. With Stacey Jones back calling the shots and a very imposing forward pack, I think the men from New Zealand can get up here. It is in Auckland after all and surely Steve Price and Ruben Wiki must be getting sick of losing by now. Warriors for mine, lets hope they can put a few together.
Knights v Tigers
Both last start losers who are in desperate need of a win.
The Tigers have now lost four in a row, but each week they have been in the game for the most part and competed to a semi-respectable level. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Knights. With zero wins to their name this season, I doubt this will be their first victory even at home.
Run your finger over the Newcastle line-up and ask yourself how many of them you thought would be playing this year? It?s not entirely their fault though, with injuries and suspensions playing a big role in their demise. It?s a minor tragedy what?s going on up there at the moment but I can?t see much light at the end of the tunnel.
The Tigers will win here and revive their hopes for the season. This victory might propel them back into the top eight with a few games in coming weeks that they would consider winnable.
Raiders v Sharks
Another potentially great game whilst being difficult to pick with second playing fourth on the ladder.
The Green Machine turned Penrith on its? ear last week and with the return of Smith and Woolford they look potent. I said last week that they?re a frustrating team to pick and given that it?s in the nation?s capital, once again this tends to complicates things.
The Sharks won on the death against New Zealand in the unfamiliar surroundings of Perth last week. They looked a little down but did have a few players coming across from Lismore to take their place in the side.
Looking at the sides I?m going to lean towards Cronulla as I think they field a stronger forward pack, with Steven?s in particular aiming for a blue jumper.
This game brings the weekend to a close and will see the NSW selectors retire to a quiet room in Philip Street to discuss the make-up of their team for Origin I over a few quiet beers or maybe a nice bottle of red.